Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Written by The Independent Staff

State Superintendent Paul Pastorek’s positive job-performance evaluation last week from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was welcome news. Pastorek has become a lightning rod in the last couple of years for his outspoken championing of reform initiatives — initiatives that have been steadfastly opposed by the Louisiana School Boards Association as well as most major teacher organizations, some of whom have called for his head. A Republican lawyer overseeing a public education system dominated by Democratic-leaning teacher unions understandably makes for a volatile situation, but Pastorek has soldiered on. And while Louisiana ranked a dismal 47th out of 51 states (and the District of Columbia) in the most recent national educational report card, we can imagine the herculean undertaking it is to move 69 state school districts, most of them kicking and screaming, in the right direction. Despite that septic relationship, Louisiana has shown modest gains in student achievement and graduation rates under Pastorek’s stewardship. Imagine if he had the support of the public education community.

Is there a disconnect between reality and an Obama administration report presented last week to the Senate Small Business Committee on job losses from the deepwater drilling moratorium? The White House insists that the economic effect of the drilling ban has been mitigated by jobs created through BP hiring cleanup workers. But didn’t federal officials parrot BP’s claim soon after the Deepwater Horizon well was capped that most of the oil was gone from the Gulf? If most of the oil is gone, what is there to clean up? Most Gulf Coast lawmakers, meanwhile, insist the moratorium has been a disaster, but many cite only anecdotal evidence and appear to be simply playing to an anxious electorate. Reality is the casualty in these competing claims about oil and jobs, and Gulf Coast residents are being left in the dark. Gulf states have an economic incentive to play up the negative effects of the moratorium. The feds and especially BP have an interest in downplaying them. Somewhere between them is the truth.

Been to New Orleans lately? Anyone who has knows the Crescent City is getting its mojo back. Eighty percent of the pre-Katrina population has returned, the ever-vibrant French Quarter never skipped a beat, and large swaths of decay — the crime-riddled wasteland of public housing projects and industrial detritus — are being replaced with smart, functional, New Urban developments. It’s increasingly safe to call N’awlins the Big Easy again. But don’t tell that to the editors at the website Business Insider, which ranked New Orleans fifth on its list of “10 American Cities That Are Dead Forever.” BI makes its far-from-compelling case mainly by pointing to the population drop after Katrina, then stops there and moves on to the next town. Galveston is the only other Southern city to earn a ranking and, like New Orleans, its demise is tied simplistically to a hurricane — Ike in 2008. The list is dominated by Rust Belt cities lining the Great Lakes, and there is an argument to be made against places like Buffalo, Cleveland and Detroit — just look at their professional football teams. But New Orleans? Saint true!

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